When a prominent politician quits Facebook, everyone takes note.

When that politician is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you really have to wonder.

The U.S. Representative for New York is wildly popular and quite vocal, especially on Twitter. Yet she recently announced she would suspend her personal use of Facebook. She said the social-media network is a public health risk, and cited five reasons for that. She spoke on the Yahoo News Skullduggery podcast about it, and here's the full quote:

"I actually think that social media poses a public health risk to everybody," she says. "There are amplified impacts for young people, particularly children under the age of three, with screen time. But I think it has a lot of effects on older people. I think it has effects on everybody. Increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism."

I'm not in favor of quitting all  social media, but I do agree that constant use is a danger. I've tackled each of the reasons she gave and provided a solution to help deal with each one.

Isolation

It's odd to think that social media could cause isolation, but I do see this as a serious problem. We're supposed to be connecting with one another, and social media does provide new avenues for that. Yet sitting alone scanning through feeds can make you feel lonely, mostly because--physically speaking--you are still alone.

Solution: Other than using social media sparingly throughout the day, it's a good idea to avoid using it in social situations when real people are around--yes, even in the grocery line. Teach yourself to interact with people and not go into a bubble of social media.

Depression

Social media can make you feel depressed, mostly because you are seeing the best moments of everyone else. (Few of us post about our low points in life.) Baby photos are just the beginning. Your best friend's wedding, a work party--you might compare your own life to what you see online, even if you know it's a false representation of reality.

Solution: If you start feeling depressed and play the comparison game, my advice is to take a break, even for just an hour or two. (Some suggest a few days or even a month, but that might be excessive.) The problem is that we tend to consume social media for long stretches of time; the secret is to scan, glance, consume, and move on.

Anxiety

Another curious problem that occurs when you use social media is that it can make you feel anxious. Why is that? Scientists know that many factors play into our sense of stress, but for me the real culprit has to do with a fear of missing out. We want to know who is commenting and liking, who has messaged us, and what the latest trending topics are for the day. It causes stress because it takes time to scan through all of our digital feeds.

Solution: I'm not going to suggest quitting all social media to deal with the anxiety factor, but it does make sense to throttle back and even decide that you won't use social at specific times. Ocasio-Cortez says she won't use social on weekends, and that's not a bad plan. Taking a break gives you control over how much you check for trends.

Addiction

I've written about this problem before, but it is worth repeating. It's well-established that social media is feeding our brains with dopamine. We like seeing Likes on our posts, comments, and retweets--it's a human desire for feedback. But social-media feedback is not the same as real feedback. It's purely digital, even if your brain thinks the feedback is real.

Solution: Part of the solution here is to realize how this feedback loop even works. Each time you are checking social media, remember that your brain is giving you micro-rewards. Take them with a grain of salt, and avoid spending too much time seeking those rewards. Control your usage, take breaks, but most importantly--see Likes as minor blips.

Escapism

Similar to the problem of feeling isolated, we often use social media as an escape from reality. The problem is that we're using a digital solution to a physical problem. We're not really escaping, in the way a trip to Cancun is an escape. We're still living in the present, and social media only helps us tune out of the problems in life for short times.

Solution: My suggestion is to avoid using social media as an escape and deal with issues in life head on. Social media won't solve any of the real problems in life, it will only help you hide from them temporarily. When you feel the urge to tune-out, turn-in instead.

Published on: Apr 15, 2019